A video on www.directline.com in the section marked "Direct Line TV Ads" featured people holding and opening umbrellas. The voice-over stated, "Last year we helped 17,346 people swap wellies back to slippers, when their house flooded and helped find alternative accommodation for those who needed it." During that time, small on-screen text stated "Escape of water (17,132) and Flood (214) claims paid by Direct Line between 01.07.11 and 30.06.12". The voice-over continued, "And right now we're offering all new customers up to 50% off contents when they buy building insurance. Take the Direct Line".
The complainant challenged whether the ad was misleading, because she understood that properties which had been flooded in the last ten years would not be insured by the advertisers.
Direct Line Group Ltd (Direct Line) said their underwriting criteria for new customers generated a decline if the property to be insured had suffered a flood in the last ten years. They stated that the ad referred to customers who were already insured with Direct Line and had been considered acceptable when taken on as new business, and whom they had helped when they made a flood claim.
They said the ad referred to 'flood' in the broadest sense of the word, meaning, for example, an escape of water, such as pipes or a bath overflowing, and weather-related flood. They stated that customers understood water-related damage of any kind to property to be a 'flood', regardless of what caused it. They added that the on-screen text gave a breakdown of the claims and gave the statistics for both 'escape of water' and 'flood'. They said the highest number of claims paid out related to escape of water.
They stated that, whilst their business might restrict the risks they took for flood cover, that was not the case with escape of water, although all risks were subject to meeting underwriting criteria. They considered that the ad was not showcasing a benefit of their cover that was not available to new business and therefore did not consider that the ad was misleading.
The ASA noted that the ad stated "Last year we helped 17,346 people swap wellies back to slippers, when their house flooded and helped find alternative accommodation for those who needed it" and, in light of the high profile press coverage of the UK's major flooding problems in recent years, considered that most consumers would understand that claim to relate to such large scale flooding incidents, where major damage had been caused and where properties had been rendered uninhabitable. On that basis, we considered that most consumers would infer that the insurance cover advertised by Direct Line to new customers would include compensation for major flooding incidents and providing alternative accommodation, as well as compensation for the more common 'escape of water' incidents, such as pipes bursting or a bath overflowing.
We understood that properties which had suffered a flood in the last ten years would not be eligible for cover and noted that the ad did not state that exemption. We considered that some consumers would assume that, if their property had already suffered major flooding, that was likely to impact on the cost of their insurance premiums or their ability to find insurance cover for flooding. However, we also considered that a key message of the ad was that Direct Line had a proven record of offering help to those who had suffered major flooding and, consequently, it would not be unreasonable for consumers to assume that Direct Line's cover would include those who were at a high risk of flooding or had previously suffered major flooding.
Therefore, because the ad highlighted the help Direct Line had provided to those who had suffered major flooding and promoted that aspect as a specific feature of their insurance cover, we considered that new customers, including those who had suffered from flooding in the past, would understand that Direct Line could cover them in the case of major floods. Because we noted that the cover was not available to those who had suffered flooding to their property in the past ten years, we concluded that the ad was likely to mislead.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (Misleading advertising) and 3.9 3.9 Marketing communications must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify. (Qualification).
The ad must not appear again in its current form.